Staunton, January 18 – The return of Aleksey Navalny to Moscow and his immediate detention by the powers that be has so dominated the Russian commentariat that it is difficult if not impossible to select out one of its essays for discussion. But New Times columnist, Andrey Kolesnikov, certainly has provided one of the most insightful.
By its actions, he argues, the Kremlin has “instilled fear” in the opposition, society and in its own ranks given that it has no resources except force to use against a single individual it won’t name and divided the country between those who support it and those who support him. There is no longer any middle ground (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/200083?fcc).
The powers that be are no longer prepared to engage in any “subtle political games,” allowing Navalny to run for office as it did in 2013. They thought he’d get only a miniscule percent of the vote. They miscalculated, “and they haven’t committed any more such mistakes.” Instead, they poisoned him and now have detained him.
This evolution shows everyone, Kolesnikov continues, that the Putin regime is now engaged in “an open civil war of the government and society,” that it is prepared to put at risk the safety of thousands of people at the capital’s airports, and is “creating the basis for a deepening of conflicts” between itself and the Russian people.
At least potentially, that conflict will be reflected in the upcoming Duma elections. United Russia will have less support, and Navalny’s ratings will only rise. They are now comparable to the ones Gennady Zyuganov’s KPRF gets but it is reasonable to assume Navalny’s will go up which Zyuganov’s will go further down.
By its actions, the Kremlin has posed a question to society and itself: “Do you want things to be like in Belarus?” And it has then answered that if society does, the state will “meet [its members] just as the powers that be in Minsk are doing,” without any fear that the siloviki will change sides.
“The situation finally has become black and white,” the New Times columnist says. People are either for Putin or for Navalny, with those around the Kremlin leader as much prisoners of this situation as anyone else. They have no choice but to support this repressive approach if they are to survive. They will actively conduct “a war against Navalny.”
According to Kolesnikov, “in this war,” neither side will hold back. The powers will do whatever they think they have to do to survive; and the population will find ways first of resisting and then of challenging those in the Kremlin. There will be problems with the West for the Kremlin but it has shown that it can cope with them and doesn’t fear new sanctions.
Navalny’s own example will free many on the other side from fear, although the way that he is being treated will spread fear in others. “The powers that be are counting on the number of the latter increasing,” something that will drive them to take ever more repressive actions to ensure that outcome.
Under these circumstances, there will not soon be “any development in the country” because “Russia has reached that stage of unfreedom when its lag behind the world will only increase,” with its politics, morality and culture all combining to make economic development impossible.
What will happen, Kolesnikov concludes, is that the powers will seek to extract ever more money from the population so that the Kremlin can continue to repress them to an ever-growing degree.